What Is “Skin Tightening” and How Do You Achieve It
Skin tightening is often high on the list for anyone feeling the pull of gravity, resulting in unwanted drooping skin. This sagging process is natural and happens as we age; years of UV exposure can also contribute to skin appearing laxer than it used to be. The main reason for this change is that collagen, the support mechanism that gives our skin its firm, supple texture, begins degrading and breaking down after the 30th decade of life. We lose some collagen, and other parts of the skin’s matrix, like elastin and extracellular matrix fibers, each year thereafter.
So, what are some of the best tried and true skin-tightening approaches? How can you achieve firm, supple skin even into your later years when a good deal of collagen has already been lost? Fortunately, there are many options for skin tightening. No matter your budget or age, there is likely a way for you to tighten that skin!
Let’s look at four main approaches for skin tightening: Surgical, being the most invasive but also typically having the most obvious results; non-surgical options like radio frequency, laser therapy, ultrasound, and injectables; topical, which includes any cream or product meant to tighten the skin; and internal supplements where collagen and/or other vitamins are taken orally.
Surgical interventions for skin tightening have been a mainstay for sagging, wrinkled skin for decades. The classic face-lift, where a plastic surgeon relocates or removes sagging skin, is often performed under general anesthesia. Suture lines are carefully hidden in the hairline and ear creases. A facelift may include a neck lift, where the lower half of the chin and cheeks are also treated. Face-lifts are invasive procedures, they take several hours, and there is significant downtime for recovery. Pain, numbness, swelling, and other side effects should also be expected. Some are not good candidates for surgery, and facelifts don’t treat fine lines and sun damage. They typically have dramatic results, with skin appearing more firm, tight, and contoured following the procedure, but of course, this also comes at a cost.
A thread lift is a minimally invasive alternative to a facelift, where special threads are used strategically to pull or lift the skin, giving it a more taught appearance. Thread lifts are a newer technique that gives the skin a subtle lift, usually only a few millimeters. It is an option for those who do not want a facelift and is much less expensive to boot. Choosing a provider who performs many thread lifts is important, as this technique is like an art; a few millimeters of placement can mean the difference between a successful lift and disappointment. That said, thread lifts are temporary and must often be performed every 18-24 months.
Non-surgical skin tightening techniques are wide-ranging and sometimes multi-faceted. There are several lasers on the market that firm skin in addition to intense pulsed light (IPL) and red-light therapy. Most of these lasers and light-based therapies are performed in the office, while others, generally less effective, have been approved for home use and can be purchased online. Generally, any device approved for home use has a lower wattage and is less powerful. This is for safety purposes, but it is likely to be less effective than a device used in a dermatologist’s office. Our providers have been trained on safety protocols and ideal settings to achieve the best results.
Lasers and light-based therapies work by stimulating the deeper parts of the skin to generate new collagen and elastin. When the skin is injured in a controlled, methodical manner, it triggers the synthesis of proteins that help firm and tighten. Most non-surgical approaches rely upon a similar mechanism, including radio-frequency (RF) and ultrasound therapy. These parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are not visible, but the energy waves stimulate collagen formation deep in the tissue. Some of these treatments can even be applied to the whole body for skin tightening.
Finally, hyaluronic acid-based fillers work by providing a moldable material that fills in wrinkles and firms the appearance of sagging, loose facial skin. Notably, fillers should only be used in certain areas to avoid an overfilled or dramatic look. The dermatologists and injectors at North Atlanta Dermatology are known for their precision and artistry in achieving the best result. Patients are also happy to know HA fillers can be reversed if the results aren’t as expected.
Topical skin tightening treatments are a great option for those with minimal concerns or who want an easy and inexpensive skincare strategy. To be clear, adding moisture to the skin can and will have a firming and tightening effect. This can be as simple as a product like lotion, cream, or emollient. Neglecting to moisturize skin early in life, especially following activities that dehydrate it, can lead to sagging and wrinkles later. No matter your age – always apply a moisturizer or barrier following cleansing, swimming, sweating, UV exposure, or any treatments (as directed by your dermatologist). Providing hydration to the skin’s outer barrier is the best way to keep the deeper layers protected and supple over time.
Regarding topical products that claim to improve skin tightness or provide firming, there are many options to choose from, and it might help to talk to your dermatologist for guidance. This is because some of the most effective products are only sold in doctor’s offices, not drug or beauty stores. They can also direct you toward products available in retail to better match your skincare needs, saving you time and experimenting with the many options on the shelf.
Prices for skin-tightening products range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, but this is one arena where more expensive products do not always translate to a more effective product. Some formulations are costly, but you often pay for packaging, marketing cost, and a brand. Effective skin-firming ingredients that are tried and true include retinol (some formulations can be purchased over the counter), hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and peptides. A plethora of creams, serums, masks, oils, and other formulations can be found with various ingredients.
When experimenting with different beauty store skin products, it is important to read the label and know any ingredients that may cause sensitization or irritation. These can sometimes be natural ingredients, such as tea tree oil or aloe. Fragrances are another common culprit behind irritation. With all that said, topical products are unlikely to offer noticeable or robust tightening effects, and these are best used to maintain an already firm, youthful appearance. Look for an option containing at least 2.5g of collagen as a daily dose.
Collagen is often found in topical skin products but is of little use when applied directly to the skin. It cannot penetrate the dermis, where collagen is located. Therefore, collagen is likely better supplemented orally.
Oral collagen supplements are an effective, safe, and affordable way to improve skin firmness. Studies have shown that oral collagen supplementation can address the signs of skin laxity and tighten by up to 40% after just 90 days of taking the supplement daily. The amount of collagen in the skin increased, and the fibers were also restructured following collagen supplementation in clinical research trials. Many collagen supplements are sufficient for improving the appearance of skin sagging, including those derived from fish, cows, and other sources. Some supplements are combined with other vitamins and minerals that can also benefit skin health. Finding a collagen supplement that you like to take, whether in a pill, chewable, or powder form, is a great addition to your daily routine and can even benefit your bone and joint health!
Skin tightening runs the gamut of effectiveness and cost, but with some understanding of the pros and cons of each, and realistic expectations, you can choose the options that best fit your lifestyle and budget!